SPUN Field Update: Tierra del Fuego + Kazakhstan + Mini-docs + More

It’s been a busy few months in the underground. There has been exciting progress in recognizing the role of fungi in restoration as well as expeditions to some of the most remote ecosystems on Earth.

The SPUN Team
July 27, 2023
Share this article

SPUN recently traveled to Chile to work with Fungi Foundation to sample parts of Yendegaia National Park in Tierra del Fuego and the legendary ecosystems of Torres del Paines. We co-led an expedition with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan to sample in the unique steppe grasslands of Kazakhstan. We awarded 9 new Underground Explorers grants and opened applications for another UEP round. We also formed a new partnership with JR Biotek, a nonprofit organization that aims to strengthen research capacity in the agricultural and environmental sciences across African nations.

Field notes

Underground Explorers Program

In June SPUN awarded 9 new Underground Explorer grants. These awards will support the work of researchers from across Kenya, Argentina, India, Guatemala, Armenia, Zambia, Panama, and Pakistan to embark on expeditions to sample and sequence mycorrhizal communities. You can view the newest cohort and read more about the winners and their projects here. Next month, we will announce another cohort of explorers from the applications submitted to the most recent grant call.

Mini documentaries

SPUN has produced two mini documentaries about two of our 2022 expeditions. You can view our mini documentary about Palmyra Atoll, the world’s most remote island, here and our film about Lesotho, the mountain kingdom of southern Africa, here.

SPUN is hiring

SPUN is hiring a Field Research Coordinator. This is a key support position whose role is to facilitate the successful execution of SPUN expeditions and sampling partnerships from the planning through the post-expedition fostering of self-sustaining community.

For a full job description and information on how to apply visit this link.

Tierra Del Fuego expedition

In partnership with Fungi Foundation and Dr. César Marín, SPUN traveled to Tierra Del Fuego and Torres del Paines, where we sampled for mycorrhizal fungi at the edges of rapidly receding glaciers, diverse wetlands, and high mountain peaks. The mycorrhizal samples taken are SPUN’s first from snow covered terrain. These ecosystems contain some of the most diverse ectomycorrhizal communities on earth, but they are facing rapid warming and change underground. Keep an eye on our website for a full expedition write up soon.

Photo: Matteo Barrenengoa

Photo: Matteo Barrenengoa

Kazakhstan expedition

The Kazakh steppe is one of the most ecologically important -- and most overlooked -- grasslands on Earth. In recent years, scientists have started sounding the alarm bell that these ecosystems are on the frontline of widespread desertification sweeping Central Asia, with 70% of Kazakhstan at risk of desertification. North Kazakhstan’s semi-arid grasslands hold tremendous carbon stocks and are predicted to be hotspots of underground fungal biodiversity.

In June, members of the SPUN science team traveled to Kazakhstan with collaborators from Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan to gather data on mycorrhizal biodiversity from the steppe grasslands. Before the expedition, there was not a single geolocated sample from this region in the GlobalFungi database that SPUN uses to generate our maps. Together with Genevieve Stephens, a project manager at RSPB, and Dr. Alyona Koshkina, a conservation biologist at ACBK, and Alexandr Putilin, head of the ACBK Reintroduction Center for Wild Ungulates, the SPUN team braved sweltering, record-breaking temperatures to travel across the seemingly endless grasslands to gather samples from 56 sites. Back in the lab, DNA extraction was carried out by Dr. Aigerim Soltabayeva, a researcher studying plant abiotic stress at Nazarbayev University in Astana. Dr Soltabayeva will determine who the mycorrhizal residents of these crucial grassland ecosystems are.

Photo: Yevgeniy Lechsenko

Photo: Genevieve Stephens / RSPB

Photo: Yevgeniy Lechsenko

Dr. Alyona Koshkina collects wild thyme on the forest-steppe.

SPUN in the news

“Researchers ventured to the world’s most remote island to study how fungi in soils could help to revive damaged ecosystems.”
Nature - “Invasive palms and WWII damaged an island paradise. Could fungi help to restore it?

“The study is the first to calculate how much carbon moves through these subterranean networks. The implications are critical not just for climate scientists, but also for policymakers, investors and innovators.”
Bloomberg - “Vast Networks of Fungi May Hold Key to Climate Fight

“In Utrecht, the Netherlands, public transport bus shelters could soon turn into an ecological corridor for underground fungi. Over three hundred shelters have been covered with a green roof which could become an oasis for the spores released by these fungi to reproduce.”
La Repubblica - “I "tetti verdi" sono un toccasana per la biodiversità nelle città

On our radar

Africa Mycorrhizal Mapping & Metagenomics Inaugural Workshop

We are thrilled to announce our collaboration with JR Biotek and the Crops Research Institute to create the Africa Mycorrhizal Mapping & Metagenomics workshop at the Crops Research Institute campus in Kumasi, Ghana in February 2024. This workshop will equip 7 outstanding Africa-based early-career scientists with knowledge and technical expertise in GPS-guided soil sampling, high-quality microbial DNA extraction, and the metagenomic sequencing of soil microbial populations using the Oxford Nanopore Sequencing Technology, alongside other powerful bioinformatics tools.

In addition, all participants will join JR Biotek’s Community of Practice across Africa for continued learning, resource sharing and networking to advance research and advocate for the protection of biodiversity in Africa and globally.

Apply here.

Fungi is Future Award

On September 5th applications open for the first Fungi is Future Award. Two 10,000 € awards will be granted, one for research and one for a start-up. “The award aims to honor and uncover frontier and cutting-edge science that explores the utilization of fungi for addressing environmental challenges. By bringing these advancements into the spotlight, the aim is to elevate emerging areas of fungi research and start-up innovations, unveiling their potential to transform our world,” says co-founder Susanne Gløersen.

Papers we’re reading

Nature Reviews MicrobiologyForest microbiome and global change“- Here the authors describe the impact of global change on the forest ecosystem and its microbiome across different climatic zones. Potential approaches are also proposed to control the adverse effects of global change on forest stability, and present future research directions to understand the changes ahead.

Journal of EcologySoil fungal communities contribute to the positive diversity–productivity relationship of tree communities under contrasting water availability” - This paper explores how soil fungi shape plant diversity and productivity by studying the relationship between tree species richness and fungal community composition.

Fungal Biology ReviewsOpportunities for diversified usage of metabarcoding data for fungal biogeography through increased metadata quality” - A useful study assessing existing fungal community datasets and their associated metadata. It examines the extent of missing and incomplete metadata and proposes solutions to this problem that will allow future fungal amplicon sequencing data to be used in large-scale metanalyses.

Upcoming conferences

South American Mycorrhizal Research Network | 24 August - 2 September, 2023, Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia

Africa Mycorrhizal Mapping & Metagenomics Inaugural Workshop | 26 February - 1 March, 2024, Kumasi, Ghana

International Conference on Mycorrhiza (ICOM) | 2024 August 6-11 2024, Manchester, UK

Field work

Are you interested in participating in fungal research? Many researchers are currently running projects in diverse fields of environmental mycology. Check them out on our Associates Page.

If you’re a mycorrhizal researcher who is interested in becoming a SPUN Associate you can fill out this form to apply.

Share this article